Assisted Suicide Ban
S.B. 200 of 1998
P.A. 328 of 1998
Sponsor: Sen. Bill VanRegenmorter
Effective Date: September 1, 1998
Causing a person by force to commit suicide is murder. Causing, by force or coercion, a person to attempt suicide is attempted murder. Doing any of the following with the intent to assist someone in a suicide is a felony punishable by up to 4 years in prison and/or a fine of $2000:
1. Provide the means by which an individual attempts or commits suicide
2. Participate in an act by which an individual attempts or commits suicide
3. Help an individual plan to attempt or commit suicide
This does not apply to providing pain medications with the intent to relieve pain and not to cause death.
Assisted Suicide in Michigan
On July 28, 1998, Governor John Engler signed S.B. 200 giving Michigan a permanent ban on assisted suicide that took effect on September 1, 1998. (See also: proposal B)
On December 4, 1997 the Michigan Senate voted 28-7 to approve S.B. 200, the ban on assisted suicide sponsored by Senator Bill VanRegenmorter. The Senate soundly rejected S.B. 653 that would have legalized assisted suicide. (The language of S.B. 653 was nearly identical to the Merian's Friends petition.)
On January 20 and 28, 1998, the House Judiciary Committee held hearings on S.B. 200 and reported it out by a vote of 14-3 after adopting an amendment to the bill that would place the issue of assisted suicide on the November 1998 ballot.
The Michigan House voted 66-40 to approve S.B. 200, on March 12, 1998. Final passage came after House members rejected the committee amendment that would have placed the ban on the November '98 ballot. The vote to reject the amendment was 62-44. Two minor technical amendments were also adopted. An attempt to give the ban immediate effect fell short of the 74 votes needed. The bill was returned to the Senate for concurrence on the House amendments. That vote was delayed in hopes of returning the bill to the House to reconsider the vote on immediate effect.
The House of Representatives "respectfully requested the return" of S.B. 200 for reconsideration of the bill on June 30, 1998. The House then took up the bill 7/2/98, amended it to have an effective date of 9/1/98 (59-31 vote), and gave the bill immediate effect. With the support of the House leaders, primarily Speaker Curtis Hertel, the motion for immediate effect was simply approved "without objection." The bill then returned to the Senate where the House amendment, immediate effect, was accepted and the bill was sent to the governor.
On December 13, 1994, the Legislature failed to reach agreement on a bill that would make the ban on assisted suicide indefinite. The original ban expired on November 25, 1995 and no new ban was enacted.
Also on December 13, 1994, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in a series of cases pertaining to the question of assisted suicide. The two more substantive rulings held that assisting in suicide is a common law offense and that no protected right to suicide or suicide assistance is found in the state or federal constitution. This latter ruling was the basis for upholding the temporary ban on assisted suicide passed by the Legislature in 1993. Both of these key rulings were issued by 5-2 votes of the Court. Separate challenges brought against the ban by Jack Kevorkian and the American Civil Liberties Union also questioned the procedural validity of the law. The plaintiffs held that the Legislature violated constitutional procedural requirements when the ban provisions were added to a bill setting up a study commission on assisted suicide. The justices ruled 7-0 that the Legislature acted appropriately. ( For a more detailed summary, see Review of Michigan Supreme Court.)
Since the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Kevorkian's appeal, charges against Jack Kevorkian both before and after the statutory ban was enacted were allowed to be brought to trial. Kevorkian's lawyer later unsuccessfully challenged the charges against Kevorkian in federal appeals court.
On April 24, 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court denied appeals by Jack Kevorkian and the ACLU thereby affirming a 1994 Michigan Supreme Court decision. Kevorkian had appealed the Michigan Supreme Court's determination that there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide. The ACLU had appealed the Michigan Supreme Court's determination that the Michigan legislature passed a constitutionally valid law banning assisted suicide.
For a more detailed history of events, including legislative events and Kevorkian's activities, see the Chronology of Events Related to Assisted Suicide.
Supreme Court Decision on Assisted Suicide
The court issued a memorandum opinion outlining its decisions which in part read as follows:
1. The assisted suicide provisions of the statute were validly enacted and do not violate the Title-Object clause of the Michigan Constitution. (Cavanaugh, C.J., and Levin, Brickley, Boyle, Riley, Griffin, and Mallett.)
2. The United States Constitution does not prohibit a state from imposing criminal penalties on one who assists another in committing suicide. (Cavanaugh, C.J., and Brickley, Boyle, Riley, and Griffin.)
3. In the murder case, People v. Roberts [cites omitted] is overruled to the extent that it can be read to support the view that the common-law definition of murder encompasses the act of intentionally providing the means by which a person commits suicide. Only where there is probable cause to believe that death was the direct and natural result of a defendant's act can the defendant be properly bound over on a charge of murder. Where a defendant merely is involved in the events leading up to the death, such as providing the means, the proper charge is assisting in a suicide, which may be prosecuted as a common-law felony under the saving clause, MCL 750.505; MSA 28.773, in the absence of a statute that specifically prohibits assisting in a suicide. (Cavanaugh, C.J., and Levin, Brickley, Griffin, and Mallett.)
4. The motion to quash [evidence] must be reconsidered by the circuit court to determine whether the evidence produced at the preliminary examination was sufficient to bind the defendant over for trial. (Cavanaugh, C.J., and Brickley, Griffin, and Mallett.)
All seven justicies concluded that the two provisions of PA 270, establishing the commission and temporarily prohibiting assisted suicide, were clearly within one object. Lower courts had confused multiple objectives or subjects, with the single object of regulating assisted suicide. In addition, amending PA 270 through PA 3 would have remedied any of its constitutional defects. In declaring that a "right to commit suicide is neither implicit in the concept of ordered liberty nor deeply rooted in this nation's history and tradition," the court upheld the right of the Legislature to regulate, indeed ban outright, the act of assisting in suicide. Plaintiffs' arguments that existing rights to refuse medical treatment and to choose abortion can be used to justify a right to suicide assistance were rejected by a majority of the court. Justice Mallett's dissenting opinion contended that these rights should be extended to include suicide assistance.
The court's partial overturning of the 1920 Roberts decision held that common-law evolves to reflect changes within jurisprudence. The majority opined that revisions within the law over the past six decades warranted a revision as to what acts warrant what criminal charges; thus discriminating between homicidal acts versus those which assist in a self-killing. Minority opinions argued that the court was not authorized to re-write law by making such distinctions.
see also Assisted Suicide Chronology of Events